“Oh,” I said dumbly, “that sucks.” Did that mean she was dating a woman? I was not sure whether this might be an opportunity to disclose about myself. That I had dated a woman before, and that my dad had found out. I had never met another Khmer girl who liked girls. This could just be wishful thinking. I found her attractive, and that was a strange feeling, too.
“Yeah,” Lakhena said, with a croak of a laugh. There was a pause. She looked down. Her lashes made shadows on her cheeks in the soft airplane light. She moved on. Maybe I didn’t have to say anything at all. Maybe she knew. But how could she? “So I’m here, going by myself. I doubt he’s talked to any of our relatives about it, but I feel like the stay might be really awkward.”
“Are you staying with relatives?” I asked, though I assumed the answer would be yes.
“They’re going to come get me at the airport. I guess I’ll stay with them,” she said, then sighed. “At least, I’ll stay with them for as long as I can until it gets too uncomfortable. They’re going to ask me if I have a sahngsah yet, like they always do.”
“Some relatives have asked me that, too,” I said, “and I know they mean boyfriend.”
“And what do you tell them?” Lakhena asked.
“I tell them I don’t have a boyfriend.” I said, feeling a little courage rise up in me.
Lakhena raised an eyebrow. “Do you say anything else?”
We shared a knowing look. A look that said that we understood each other. That we had had familiar, similar conversations. That we had used the same strategies to divert attention from subjects that were uncomfortable.
“How long are you supposed to be in Cambodia?” I asked.
“A month,” she answered.
“Me, too. Are you going to stay in Phnom Penh?”
“For a while. My relatives might take me to Siem Reap to see Nakor Wat. A lot has been restored lately. Or I might leave early. Where will you be?”
I shrugged. “Wherever my grandmother wants to go. We’re supposed to go see a wat she raises money for. She hasn’t been back since a Pot.”
“Wow,” she said, “that’s such a long time.”
“Your family got out before everything happened, didn’t they?”
A clouded look came over her face before she said, “It’s a long story.”
And with that, she seemed to shut down again. Something closed in her face. Again, I found myself uncomfortable.
“I should get back to my grandma,” I said.